Wi-Fi VoIP and iPhone: New Competitors?

The unrelated announcements this week of Apple’s iPhone and Vonage’s plan to bundle Wi-Fi with VoIP got me thinking: Do we need some new competitive analysis to figure out what’s really happening in the world of good ol’ talk talk talk?

After spending most of Thursday plowing through numbers — free versions of pricey analyst reports, company financial filings and press releases and news reports, the trend until now seems to be stuck in silos: VoIP vs. VoIP, wireless vs. wireless, etc. There’s a little cross-pollination when straight consumer VoIP numbers are compared, but is Vonage really a competitor to Comcast?

Or is Vonage’s Wi-Fi bundling plan going to butt heads more seriously with advanced cellular offerings, like aPhone? So far, the numbers that are out there don’t even start to tell the more complete story of new voice competition.
So instead of worrying whether or not Comcast is going to “overtake Vonage,” whatever that means, we should perhaps be thinking in terms of competing for available talk minutes of ANY sort — and which device those minutes will gravitate to.

Right now, I’d have to give the edge to wireless, mainly because it seems like innovation and new applications are happening there faster than they are in the wired (or even Wi-Fi) VoIP world, at least on the consumer side. Plus, a cell phone is a necessary bit of our going-out armor these days, for all but a few holdout Luddites. If you had to lose one right now, landline or cell phone, which would it be? And when you start adding more cool factor like the iPhone’s promised apps (like a truly integrated iPod), there’s even more incentive to go mobile.

So for Vonage — perhaps reselling EarthLink’s Wi-Fi will help them replace a few more POTS phones, but cellular has been selling service and access since day one. When it comes to talk competition, the days of comparing VoIP to VoIP should be past us. Instead, we should simply be asking, which way will the minutes go? It’s not an easy chart to build or an easily quotable report to sell, but it is the way end-users are weighing their purchase decisions.

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